Sudan er et land vi forbinder med vold, fundamentalisme og borgerkrig. Men landet var på 60-tallet opphav til en reformbevegelse innen islam som kalte seg the Republican Brothers. Dens leder var sufi-inspirerte Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, Gruppen ville forene islam med moderniteten.

Vi er så opphengt i vår egen samtid at vi aksepterer islamismen som et faktum. Men den er et forholdsvis nytt fenomen. I flere av landene hvor den idag dominerer, var livsstilen romsligere og mer avslappet, det fantes intellektuelle som fortjente ordet, og religiøse reformatorer. Men så senket mørket seg.

I Sudan grep general Jaafar al-Nimeiri makten i klassisk stil i 1969. Noen år senere, i 1976, var han presset og søkte støtte hos Det muslimske brorskap, ledet at Hasan al-Turabi, en skjebnesvanger allianse, som førte til innføring av sharia. I 1985 var islamistene sterke nok til å avsette Nimeiri.

Islamistene tolererer ingen som utfordrer deres lære og Republican Brothers ble arrestert, blant dem læreren, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha. En av hans elever var Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im. Han hadde ved et tilfelle gått til et møte med Taha i 1967. Det forandret livet hans.

Taha ble dømt til døden og henrettet i en rettssak som varte en time. Men An-Na’im slapp ut, og er idag en verdensberømt islamsk scholar, ansatt ved Emory University i Atlanta, som reiser over hele verden.

Hans store kunnskaper og veltalenhet imponerer muslimer hvor han enn kommer. An-Na’im sier det aldri har eksistert et sharia-samfunn hvor det var full overensstemmelse mellom den offentlige lov og moral og den religiøse loven, dette er overbevisning som er relativt ny. Og det fungerer ikke i praksis, det er nok å se på landene som har forsøkt: Iran, Saudi-Arabia, Taliban.

An-Na’im sier han har en stor oppgave: meningsmålinger viser at muslimer flest vil ha et skille mellom stat og religion. Samtidig ønsker de sharia! Dette går det an å løse, mener An-Na’im. Han vil reformere Koranen, og parkere utdaterte vers.

Grunnleggende er en respekt for alle mennesker i samfunnet, kvinner og ikke-muslimer. Muslimer må rett og slett bli troende på linje med andre religiøse, uten særrettigheter. Det vil også være best for dem, sier An-Na’im.

Nylig ble det holdt en muslimske kjetterkonferanse i Atlanta:

There is no such thing as an Islamic state.

A secular state and human rights are essential for all societies so that Muslims and others can practice their faith freely, he tells his co-religionists.

«My motivation is in fact about being an honest, true-to-myself Muslim, rather than someone complying with state dictates,» says Mr. Naim, a professor of law at Emory University in Atlanta since 1999. «I need the state to be neutral about religious doctrine so that I can be the Muslim I choose to be.»

So committed is this scholar to opening the door to free debate within his faith that he helped organize the first «Muslim Heretics Conference» in Atlanta over the weekend. Some 75 Muslims, engaged in various reform projects, gathered to discuss issues related to sharia (Islamic law), democracy, and women’s rights – and how to cope with dissent and its consequences.

«We celebrate heresy simply to promote innovative thinking,» he says. «Every orthodoxy was at one time a heresy.»

Naim’s personal project involves what he calls «negotiating the future of sharia.» As Islamic societies struggle to define themselves in a globalized world and some talk of creating Islamic states to codify sharia, he says the state and religion must be kept separate.

«I know for a fact that Abdullahi has a following among young Muslims in places like Malaysia and Indonesia,» says John Esposito, head of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. «These people are often marginalized in their societies, but over time, these positions can become mainstream.»

Naim’s view is not just a theory picked up in the United States, but the result of painful personal experience. «As a Muslim from Sudan whose people have suffered tremendously from confusion over this issue, my mission is to clarify it so other Muslim societies don’t go down the same road to come to the same dead end,» he says in a phone interview. He has watched Sudan’s institutions virtually collapse under fundamentalist Islamic rule and seen the disillusionment firsthand.
The essence of the Sufi’s message had been that certain verses in the Koran represented the universal, eternal message of Islam, while others were relevant to a particular historical context and no longer viable. «Specifically [he argued] for equality for women, freedom of religion, and equality for non-Muslims,» Naim says. After fleeing the country, he translated Taha’s work, «The Second Message of Islam,» into English.

Naim later became director of Africa Watch, monitoring human rights on the continent, and in 1995 began teaching at Emory. He’s written books on human rights and sponsored social-change projects promoting human rights in local communities in Yemen, Tanzania, and Southeast Asia.

A new book just released in English, «Islam and the Secular State,» represents the culmination of his life’s work, he says.

Islam teaches that every Muslim stands before God and is responsible for making his own moral choices in observing sharia. The Koran does not prescribe a form of government, but speaks only of the community of Muslims. The book argues that there has never been an Islamic state.

«You will not find any reference to an Islamic state or to state enforcement of sharia before the mid-20th century – it’s a post-colonial discourse based on a European-style state,» he explains.

While Iran, for instance, claims to be a republic, implying popular sovereignty, a council of clerics is supposed to ensure that it is Islamic. But that council is made up of fallible humans as political as everyone else, he argues. «How is it that 30 years after the revolution they cannot trust the Muslim citizens to make the choice as to who is likely to be faithful to Islamic values and to represent them?»

Further, Iran and Saudi Arabia both claim to be Islamic states, but to each other they are heresies, he adds. So what does Islamic mean? To call a state Islamic is to attempt to silence political or theological dissent, he says.

«Most Muslims have an intuitive feeling about this but can’t articulate it, so when confronted by Islamists who say this is the will of God, they are defenseless,» Naim says. «My hope is that with this book, we give people confidence to respond that «this is not Islam, it is your view of Islam.»

For some time, Naim has been visiting countries across the Muslim world from Nigeria to Indonesia, testing his ideas in public gatherings, which may range from 25 to 800 people. Before he set out, early manuscripts of his book were translated into Indonesian, Bengali, French, Persian, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu and uploaded onto a website.
Yet Radwan Masmoudi, director of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington, believes Naim’s goal of separating political and religious institutions is what a majority of Muslims want. Gallup’s recent global poll showed «that 80 to 90 percent of Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia want democracy,» he says, but similar majorities also want sharia to be a source, or the only source, of law in their countries.

«This is the struggle of our time, coming up with a modern interpretation of sharia that is true to Islamic principles but also to democratic values,» he adds.

Muslim reformer’s ‘heresy’: The Islamic state is a dead end

En enda bedre fremstilling gir indonesiske Andreas Horsono i anledning et besøk An-Na’im avla i 2003.

JAKARTA -– A leading Muslim scholar from the Sudan has injected some high-octane political thinking into the furious debate going on here over the possible imposition of Islamic law, or sharia, saying that the concept is incompatible with democracy and the principles of modern statehood.

Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, who now teaches in Atlanta, said in his public lectures here that Indonesian scholars should learn more about sharia and do comparative studies on other Islamic countries where it was officially implemented, such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, and countries where sharia had been being campaigned and partly imposed, such as Sudan, Algeria, Nigeria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. None of them is democratic.

«Most advocates of the sharia do not know its content. But they made others hostage to their sharia campaigns. It’s you who have to learn the content and speak out, be straightforward,» An-Na’im told a workshop of Muslim scholars on Friday.

Indonesia is host to the largest Muslim population in a single country in the world. An-Na’im’s speeches are intellectually relevant here, where sharia is one of the most important ongoing public debates in post-Suharto Indonesia. During former President Suharto’s 32-year authoritarian rule, any debate on whether Indonesia should change its secular state ideology either toward Islam or socialism, was swiftly repressed.

After Suharto was forced to step down in 1998, Indonesia immediately began a promising but very difficult process of restoring democracy.

Advocates of sharia also turned up, ranging from political parties that choose legal and democratic ways to promote their ideas to the Islamic militants, such as Laskar Jihad, Islam Defenders Front, Indonesian Mujahidin Council, and Jamaah Islamiyah, that advocate violence to achieve their goals. More than a dozen of these militants were involved in the Bali bombing last October that killed 192 people.

An-Na’im came to Indonesia earlier this month at the invitation of the State University for Islamic Studies in Jakarta, one of the largest state-financed universities in Indonesia. He gave lectures in crowded theaters and classrooms both within and outside the university grounds, and granted media interviews over a two-weeks period.

«It’s incredible. An-Na’im gave incredible input to not only the modernist Muslims, but also our colleagues from Hizbut Tahrir whose [sharia] arguments were proven to be weak,» said Nong Darol Mahmada of the Liberal Islam Network.

Hizbut Tahrir is a Middle East-based political organization. Its Indonesian branch advocates sharia through public rallies and campaign. They argued that the Indonesian government should run the economy according to Islamic principles. Their well-known slogan is «sharia is the answer.»

Reared in a Sudanese village down the Nile River from Khartoum, Dr. An-Na’im earned law degrees from the University of Khartoum, Cambridge and Edinburgh University, and is currently a professor of law at Emory University in Atlanta. He is the author of Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights and International Law (Syracuse University Press, 1990).

He began his involvement with sharia in the 1970s, when he joined a reformist movement in Sudan. The Republican Brothers fought for the country’s political independence from Britain (which Sudan achieved in 1956) and then became a social movement calling for reform of Islam.

In 1983, 50 members of the Republican Brothers, including An-Na’im, were imprisoned. He remained in jail for 18 months. Soon after he and the others were released in 1985, their leader, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, was executed. «The trial was only one hour,» An-Na’im said. Three months later An-Na’im left Sudan. He has not returned to Sudan since that time due to the potential for persecution against him.

Ismail Yusanto of the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, who attended a workshop organized by Mahmada’s organization, argued openly with An-Na’im, saying that sharia provides jurisprudence as an alternative to capitalism. Yusanto said the gold-based Saudi «dinar» currency might replace the current money system, adding that dinar is free from depreciation, unlike the system which lead to the Asian economic meltdown five years ago.

Calculated in dinars, the price of a goat during the Prophet Mohamad period is more or less the price of a goat today. One dinar is equals 4.25 grams of gold, or about $5.40 at Jan. 19 price of $356 per ounce.

Hizbut Tahrir also advocates the establishment of a «khilafah Islamiyah» –a global Islamic state composed of all the Muslims in the world. Yusanto said the recent establishment of the European Union, where the currency is united and the borders are opened, should illustrate that in the future European states are going to be even more closely united. Why not Muslims? Why can’t Indonesians, for instance, go to Malaysia freely?

An-Na’im responded by saying, «What is Islamic about the dinar?» He told Yusanto that the dinar was adopted in the Middle East from the Roman Empire. Human history has shown that valuable minerals had been used to accommodate trading among people long before the Roman Empire. Gold was used to back world currencies until the end the World War II.

«The concept of the sharia was developed in a different world, the pre-colonial world. Like it or not, the world we live in today, the post-colonial world, is not the world of our dreams. It’s not the world that we have lost,» said An-Na’im.

He said many sharia advocates have a romantic feeling about the glorious days of the Prophet Mohamad as well as the other Islamic sultanates. The long history of Islam, however, showed that not a single Islamic state has ever imposed sharia in the way modern sharia advocates propose, which is to equate faithfulness to God with observance of public order.

An-Na’im repeatedly said that secularism is a part of Islam’s history. No pre-colonial Islamic state ever imposed rules that equated submission to God to submission to public order. But he admitted that secularism is seen negatively in many parts of the Islamic world due to the ties of secular Islamic states with dominant post-colonial powers like France, Britain or America.

His speeches, generously peppered with Arabic proverbs, also used many classical interpretations of the Koran to buttress his arguments, fascinating both opponents and friends with his vast knowledge of Islam.

The Indonesian debate over sharia actually began in the 1940s. In the months preceding Indonesia’s independence on Aug. 17, 1945, Indonesian leaders worked to formulate a constitution for the planned republic. The most debated issue was whether the state should impose different rights and duties on citizens according to their religion.

Muslim leaders drew up a draft wherein the state would be based on belief in God with «the obligation to carry out the sharia for the followers of Islam.»

This draft, also known as Jakarta Charter, was rejected by the secularists and the non-Muslims, which led to its exclusion from the Constitution. For the Islamists, the failure became a painful reminder of other Muslim defeat.

President Sukarno, himself a nationalist-secularist, was elected Indonesia’s first president. He also did not tolerate the sharia campaign during his rule. Suharto replaced Sukarno in a bloody coup in 1965. Suharto also propounded Indonesia’s own secularist ideology, Pancasila.

Interestingly, during the post-Suharto period, the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, the two largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia, which used to campaign for the adoption of sharia in the 1940s and 1950s, now openly opposed its advocates. Their current leaders say Islam fights for universal values and thus sharia need not to be imposed as it was in the Mecca and Medina of the 8th Century.

An-Na’im called on his audience, who seemed to largely agree with him, to be straightforward in challenging sharia advocates. He demonstrtaed his point by confronting, case by per case, every question posed by the sharia advocates who came to his lectures.

«How will you deal with the Christians? Although their number is only several percent of the population in Indonesia, but that means millions. Please be serious. You’re dealing with people’s lives,» An-Na’im told his audience, recalling the deadly civil war that Sudan had seen after implementing the sharia in September 1983.

The price of adviocating sharia can be high. Gen. Jafa’ar Nimeiri, who is not a devout Muslim but a master of political maneuvers, took power in Sudan in 1969, backed by the military. An uprising threatened his power in 1976, prompting Nimeiri to build a coalition with Muslim cleric Hasan al Turabi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But soon, sharia amputations and hangings contributed to the popular nonviolent overthrow of Nimeiri in 1985. As for Turabi, he became a very powerful person in Sudan between 1989 and 2001, when he was arrested by his own lieutenants.

Andreas Harsono, a longtime AR Correspondent, won the Nieman Fellowship on Journalism at Harvard University for international journalists in 1999-2000. He is based in Jakarta and helped translate a lecture by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim in the workshop.

Indonesian Muslims Get an Earful From Sudanese Scholar